Ruby Bridges, 1954

  • Ruby-Bridges-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education and Activism & FeminismWoman Tags: African-American Women and NOLA Women

  • HerStory

    A civil rights activist and the first African-American child to integrate into an elementary school in the South.

    Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi, just a few months before the US supreme court ruled that segregating schools is unconstitutional. The southern states continued to resist integration and did not follow the ruling. When she was four years old, the family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1960, when Bridges was 6 years old, the federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate all the state’s public schools, so, to keep black students out of white schools, the Orleans Parish School Board administered entrance exams for the new students. Her parents accepted the request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Bridges took the test. She was one of six children in New Orleans who passed it and the only one to attend to the all-white William Frantz Elementary School.
    On November 14th, 1960, 6-year-old Bridges became the first African-American to attend an all-white elementary school in the south. It was a significant milestone in the civil rights movement. On her first day, people gathered outside of the school, they were shouting, throwing things, and screamed slurs at her, and from that day till the end of the year, she was escorted to school by four federal marshals. White kids’ parents pulled their children out of the school, and Barbara Henry was the only teacher who agreed to teach her. For more than a year, Bridges was the only student in her class. It was not only her sacrifice but her family as well. They were banned from their regular grocery store, her father got fired from his job, her grandparents were evicted from their farm, and eventually, her parents separated.
    Bridges continued to study in integrated schools until her graduation. Afterward, she became a travel agent for 15 years, until she quit to take care of her four boys. At the age of 45, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation – an organization dedicated to the elimination of segregation and racism and promoting equal education to all. She and her elementary school teacher, Mrs. Henry, travel around the country, talking about her story and how to eliminate racism.

    “Racism is a grown-up disease, and we should stop using our kids to spread it”

    “Racism is a grown-up disease, and we should stop using our kids to spread it”

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She is the subject of the painting “The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell.
    • She thought that all the fuss outside of school was because of Mardi Gras.
    • In the first years in school, she got counseling from the Child psychiatrist Robert Coles, who later published a children’s book titled “The Story of Ruby Bridges.”
    • The clothing she wore in the first weeks of school was sent to her by a relative of Robert Coles.
    • She is the subject of the song “Ruby’s Shoes” by Lori McKenna.
    • She was portrayed by the actress Chaz Monet in the movie “Ruby Bridges” which describes her struggles at Elementary School.
    • The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has a permanent exhibit documenting her life alongside Ryan White and Anne Frank.
    • She wrote two books, in which she details her experiences in the first years of school.
    • She lost her home during Hurricane Katrina and was involved in repairing her old Elementary School, which was severely damaged.
    • A statue of her is located in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School, on the campus of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and in “The Remember Them: Champions for Humanity Monument” in downtown Oakland, California.


  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * A movie about her
    * Books about her


    * She was made an honorary deputy federal marshal (2000)
    * Carter G. Woodson Book Award. 2000
    * The Presidential Citizens Medal (2001)
    * The Alameda Unified School District in California named a new elementary school in her honor (2006)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Ruby Bridges Shares the Key to Overcoming Racism

    In 1960, Ruby Bridges became one of the first African American children to integrate into an all-white school in New Orleans. Today, she shares how overcoming racism takes the heart of a child.

  • Bridges in 2015. Photo credit - Wikipedia